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jury duty
where's pauly shore when you need him?
by mike julianelle

I’d heard all my life about the hell that is jury duty. Contrary to Hollywood’s depiction of the court system as a three-ring circus of objections, outbursts, and on-the-stand breakdowns, jury duty is widely considered one long wait. Kinda like purgatory. A waiting room, where your final destination is either freedom or servitude, determining whether your inconvenience shall last one day or more.

Most people luck out and don’t make trial. Some get screwed hard and end up getting sequestered for months. And the rest get only moderately screwed, and wind up deliberating over a three-day fender-bender case, like me.

The common panacea in this era of expanding realms of instant gratification is to postpone the date over and over again until finally biting the bullet and showing up several months later. But I had always had a different idea about it.

I was intrigued by the possibility of serving on a jury in a trial. I didn’t want to land a homicide; I was just looking for something interesting. And the way I saw it, almost anything could be; the whole process fascinated me. I knew it consisted of a lot of waiting, but I had a book I was itching to finish and a job I hated enough to skip for a women’s basketball game, so jury duty wasn’t so bad.

My most direct contact with the judicial system had always been through fictional representations, like movies and television, where the monotony is omitted and the rest is exaggerated for dramatic effect.

I knew my trial wouldn’t feature Jack Nicholson incriminating himself on the stand, or Al Pacino tearing into the judge; I had lost my naïve expectations of fireworks in the courtroom long before this day. Movies were movies, court was boring; that much I grasped. But I was still curious, so I didn’t postpone my date.

I ended up on a boring-as-hell fender-bender case. I had already forgotten to be intrigued by the end of the opening statements.

What surprised me wasn’t only my quick capitulation to apathy, but the expectations I had for the performances of the leading players. It struck me in the courtroom that I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to do. Not as a juror, but as a lawyer or a judge. I found myself second-guessing this lawyer’s tactics, that lawyer’s opening arguments, this lawyer’s tie, that lawyer’s objections. I felt like I knew how to ask the questions, what to say, when to object, what to overrule, etc.

Where did I get off being so presumptuous? That’s what I wondered. And the answer came from exactly where I thought there were none. The movies.

I was treating the trial like it was a movie and I was on the Academy Award nomination committee. After years of being educated in courtroom manner by countless films and TV shows, I suddenly wanted to display my imaginary mastery of the craft.

As I watched the attorney for the plaintiff make his opening argument, I analyzed his tactics. “I don’t know if I’d have gone with that tie...this guy’s inexperienced, he’s gonna blow it…nope, wouldn’t have said that....”

I was critiquing him, as if I had the authority to do so. I watched as he said, “No more questions,” and then recanted, having forgotten about a piece of evidence he wanted to discuss. Instead of granting him some leeway for nerves and anxiety, I chalked it up to his incompetence. Incompetence? Hmmm. Having argued approximately zero cases in court and having won approximately, give or take a few, zero decisions, I was confident I could out-lawyer him.

Obviously I’m not so deluded as to think I can try a case better than a real life attorney, but I’m pretty damn close to being deluded enough to think that Matthew McConaughey can (I mean, did you see that closing speech in A Time to Kill?).

You see, I wasn’t really comparing the lawyers to me, I was comparing them to Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder and to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird and to Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny (to whom they actually held up rather well).

I was docking them points for stammers and stutters and missteps, and was awarding them points for inducing tears, eliciting gasps, and inciting standing ovations.

At the end of the day, it was close. In fact, the attorney for the plaintiff and I were dead even at zero points a piece, using the standard Hollywood Bullshit-Lawyer point system. I had the goose egg because I was a juror and hadn’t spoken all day; he had the goose egg because he probably didn’t go to enough movies as a kid.

And the sad fact is, I think most of us are warped enough to have such ridiculous expectations when it comes to the courtroom. A large percentage of the public has never participated in a trial. The only reality we have to relate it to is the false reality presented in the movies. Yet we all have the feeling that we’ve been through countless trials, that we know what to expect and we know what works, because we’ve seen them so many times.

But we’re wrong. Because what works isn’t theatrics (not alone), it isn’t screaming at someone until they break down and it certainly isn’t putting your girlfriend on the stand as an expert witness.

What works is money.


What works are preparation, perseverance, and education.
Because, contrary to popular belief, law school doesn’t consist of watching The Paper Chase. It consists of study and memorization and repetition and involves actually applying the theoretical principles of law to real incidents and real people. It’s not quite as easy as in Soul Man. In fact, I doubt C. Thomas Howell could graduate at all.


Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle


my irish eyes are crying
sick and pale with grief sunburn
by mike julianelle
topic: humor
published: 7.11.07

staring conquest
flirting with disaster
by mike julianelle
topic: humor
published: 10.17.03


adam kraemer
5.3.01 @ 11:38a

Yeah, but my rule is never make fun of a man whose name is a complete sentence.

michelle von euw
5.4.01 @ 11:19a

My opinion of "a jury of one's peers" is that it is an interesting and theoretically fun concept. But when people's lives are actually on the line, it worries me. There are professional judges, professional lawyers -- how come the people who actually make the decisions are the only ones who aren't professionals?

mike julianelle
5.4.01 @ 12:00p

I hear what you're saying, but the professionals aren't always the best of the bunch either. Besides, the jury system seems to work, just look at O.J. It's a rare and wonderful thing to see justice served, especially in the face of such contrary public opinion.

jael mchenry
6.11.01 @ 9:19a

My jury duty experience was quite brief. I lucked out and got sent home early (apparently Friday afternoons in DC in July aren't very popular times for trials! Go fig!) but almost regretted it. We so rarely get a chance to see the way things really are instead of the way movies and TV present them to us.

adam kraemer
6.11.01 @ 11:09a

Michael, are you serious about feeling that OJ's trial actually reflected what we'd consider justice?

mike julianelle
6.11.01 @ 11:16a

NO! I wrote that a month ago, in my best deadpan, to get some people stirred up. Looks like only the normal psychos took the bait. And Adam, by "psychos" I mean you.

adam kraemer
6.11.01 @ 11:23a

Well, that's fair. I don't believe I was "stirred up" just yet. I really was just asking if you were serious or not. Because, yes, it was written in a wonderfully straight tone, but I couldn't reconcile the comment with the impression I'm under that you're an intelligent human being. I appreciate you removing my cognitive dissonance.

mike julianelle
6.11.01 @ 11:31a

Damn, I should have kept it going. "Are you telling me that wonderful man DIDN'T have horrible arthritis in his knees?" "Did you even SEE him try the glove on? It didn't fit!" "He rushed for 2000 yards in ONE season! Guilty? I think not."

mike julianelle
6.11.01 @ 11:31a

Anyways, O.J.'s history as a Buffalo Bill is enough for me to toss him in the slammer, no questions asked.

jael mchenry
6.15.01 @ 11:58a

Last night I watched real live lawyers argue a case, and damned if I didn't think, "Shouldn't he be saying that with a little more confidence?" and "Hey, I could do that!"

mike julianelle
6.15.01 @ 12:22p

That's exactly what I mean! If Tom Cruise can act the part convincingly (can he?), why shouldn't we be able to?

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